In a perfect football world, Roy Philon would be more than a run-stopper.
He'd be a runner.
Philon, a tackle, is a big (6-foot-3, 290-pound) reason why the defensive line is a strength as Louisville heads into the 2013 football season.
A fifth-year senior, he has started in half of the 34 games in which he has played over three seasons. He's coming off a year in which he totaled 27 tackles, including four for losses and 2½ sacks, despite being hampered by a back injury.
When he was at Bryan Station High School, though, Coach Oliver Lucas also gave him some time at fullback.
Although he carried only 10 times, he scored seven touchdowns and ran for 220 yards.
Philon smiles when he says that he has lobbied offensive coordinator Shawn Watson for a goal-line carry.
"I was like, 'Man, you need to let me do it one time,'" Philon said with a laugh. "And he kind of gets to messing around with me and stuff like that. How he did it at Nebraska with Ndamukong Suh. He's just messing around with me. But if they need me, I'm down to do it."
Philon's forté, though, is stopping the run.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford wants to see an improved pass rush from Philon.
"We play a 3-4 defense here. A lot of times he's one-on-one," Bedford said. "We need a guy that can win that battle. We need a guy that can push the pocket."
Head coach Charlie Strong likes what he's seen so far.
"Roy Philon's doing absolutely unbelievable," Strong said. "He's really matured over the last couple of years. And what's really great for him is that he graduated and is in graduate school. I'm so happy for him."
Philon, with a degree in justice administration in hand, says he couldn't be happier with his college choice.
He recalls being recruited by hometown Kentucky, but the Wildcats backed off because of grades.
He got his schoolwork in order and chose U of L because of "the love that I felt when I got here. ... I loved the on-campus experience that I had when I came down on my official (visit). It just felt like home."
No mystery to how he has progressed since his two-star-prospect high school days. Hard work, Philon says.
In his final season at U of L, he says he's concentrating on techniques and fundamentals: "Getting back to basics, really. And just focusing on trying to win games and becoming a better player, a better leader for the defense.
"It's my senior year. I want to go out with a bang. I want to have fun. I want to 'do me' — I want to be the best. And I want to do my best against the Cats because it's a big rivalry for us. It's home. So I just kind of want to show off for my friends and family back home."
Coach: Charlie Strong (25-14 in three seasons at U of L)
Last season: 11-2 overall; 5-2 and tied for first place in Big East Conference; beat Florida 33-23 in Sugar Bowl
Returning starters: 18 (7 offense, 11 defense)
Outlook: The Cardinals have all kinds of weapons on offense, a veteran defensive line and a schedule that has U of L fans dreaming of a perfect season. Not that the coach is looking ahead. "Our message right now is, 'It's all about us.' That is the battle we're going to fight," Strong said. "It's about us. Don't worry about the opponent. Just make sure you handle yourself. Because the thing we can control is ourselves, and we can control how we play and how we go get prepared. That's what it's about — it's about us." With Teddy Bridgewater in the pocket, a full house of capable receivers and no less than three capable runners, look for a well balanced run-pass attack.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford says the Cards will be more aggressive than last season, always on the attack: "This year, we're going back to old school. You drop a hat, we're going to blitz you."
Not even Strong expected U of L to come so far so fast: "It kinds of shocks me. Because I never thought that four years ago, when I took this program over, that we would be sitting here talking about just trying to manage expectations. Because I probably should have won two games my first year, four games my second year, six, and then this year win seven or eight."
Question marks: With a Sugar Bowl win behind them and top 10 pre-season recognition, will the Cardinals continue to play with fire in their belly? "What you never want to do is allow your team to get complacent, and you don't want them to get cocky," Strong said. "And it's so easy to do because you get patted on your back enough, then you start believing it. I told our coaches, 'This will be one of the toughest jobs that we've ever had, in how we can control this football team.'"
Can U of L become more aggressive on defense and finish the job? "The biggest thing we've got to bring to the table this year as a defense, we must tackle better," Bedford said. "We were a poor-tackling football team last year, so we've spent a lot of time ... learning how to tackle."
Game of the Year: U of L's first and last season in the American Athletic Conference may come down to the final game. U of L is the pre-season No. 1 pick in the AAC, followed by long-time rival Cincinnati — Big East co-champions in 2012. The Cardinals pulled out a 34-31 win last year.
Players to watch
QB Teddy Bridgewater: A Heisman Trophy candidate and last year's Big East Offensive Player of the Year, he threw for 3,718 yards and 27 TDs last year, finishing eighth in the nation in passing efficiency and 26th in total offense. "He has to control his emotions," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "I don't want him to feel the pressure of, 'He's got to perform a certain way.' Basically, our whole approach here is we already have the culture that we need to win. It's called working hard; it's called paying attention to the details. It's being fundamentally sound."
SS Hakeem Smith: A three-time all-Big East selection, he has 245 career tackles. Starting all 13 games last season, he totaled 73 tackles and broke up seven passes. Said Vance Bedford, defensive coordinator: "He does all the little things right. He's always in position. He's smart. You always (hear) 'He's not big enough; he's not fast enough.' He makes plays."
RB Michael Dyer: With Senorise Perry and Dominique Brown both coming off knee injuries, transfer Dyer is capable of adding a big spark. He ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of two seasons at Auburn, and was named MVP of the 2011 BCS championship game. "I don't think (a potential three-man logjam) is going to be an issue," Strong said. "Because if you're a competitor and you can compete, then you welcome the competition."
WR DeVante Parker: The 6-3 junior out of Ballard High School, an all-Big East performer last season, is tied for seventh in school history with 16 TD catches. He led the Cards last year with 744 receiving yards and 10 TDs, scoring in the last six games of the season. Said Watson: "DeVante Parker is a force, a guy that we worked on targeting last year during the course of the season. (I) feel like we've got to give him a lot of touches."
LB Preston Brown: A second-team all-Big East pick last year, he has 203 career tackles, including 109 his junior season and 84 as a sophomore. He started all 13 games last season, with double-digit tackle totals in six contests. Said Bedford: "Everybody remembers him from the bowl game (a team-high 13 tackles vs. Florida), but he did a lot of those things last year during the season. ... He is starting to develop into a leader. He understands our defense centers around him. If he plays well, our defense is going to do well."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.